Technique Tuesdays: Fabric Art

Fabric art brings appealing qualities to mixed media: texture, dimension, shape, and form. It’s difficult not to touch a piece of textile art, as our hands want to explore all the interesting things our eyes see. Fabric is so accessible that it’s easy to put it front and center, or add it to mixed-media art, whether it’s a scrap of vintage cloth, a piece of repurposed clothing, or strips of man-made fibers. The following tips and techniques are just a few ideas for what can be done with this versatile material.

1. Fabric patchwork doesn’t have to be made up of traditional blocks; Linda Willis redefined the technique in her article “Free-style Patchwork” in the January/February 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. Working with raw-edged scraps of patterned fabrics in a variety of sizes and colors, she stitches them together to create small keepers. To start, place a piece of batting fabric right-side down on your work surface, and lay a same-size piece of batting on top. Pin pieces of fabric in random fashion onto the batting/backing fabric, completely covering it, and overlapping all of the pieces by ¼”-½”. Machine or hand stitch a random grid over the fabric pieces, removing pins as you go. Keep in mind that the more stitching you do, the firmer the fabric piece will be. You can use this piece to create a small bag, or keep it as textile art, adding embellishments and more machine or hand stitching.

Collaged fabric keeper from Cloth Paper Scissors magazine
Patchwork is redefined in this collage of scraps stitched together to create a vibrant keeper. (Art by Linda Willis, photo by Sharon White Photography)

2. It’s easy to create graffiti fabric art using fun and unconventional techniques and materials. In her book Printmaking Unleashed, Traci Bautista offers several methods to get the look of bold, colorful graffiti. She uses a variety of fabrics for a base, including muslin, drill cloth, canvas, and Osnaburg. Some ideas for decorating the fabric: Spray through stencils, or items that can act as stencils, such as combs, sequin waste, and silk flowers. Stamp patterns with handmade stamps made from craft foam, or print with needlepoint canvas. Place a texture plate under the fabric and rub with oil pastels. Draw and doodle with dimensional paint. Use a foam pouncer to dab paint. Transfer a color laser image.

Graffiti fabric art from Printmaking Unleashed
Turn plan textiles into graffiti fabric art with stencils, paint, pens, and markers. (Art by Traci Bautista)

3. Transferring images onto organza gives them an ethereal look, and layering these images with patterns, stitching, and color creates beautiful dimensional fabric art. In Art Lessons Volume 7: Altering Organza for Collage, Jeannie Palmer Moore shows how easy it is to create a transfer using gel medium. Place a color or laser copied image, or some newspaper, on your work surface, and lay a piece of organza on top. Put a blank silkscreen on top of the organza and squeegee gel medium through the screen once or twice, so that the medium soaks through to the copy or newspaper. Remove and wash the screen immediately. The blank screen should make the entire copy or newspaper adhere to the organza. Let the gel medium dry and rinse the organza in a tray or bucket of warm water. Scrub the paper off with your hands or a soft brush.

Transfer image on organza from Cloth Paper Scissors Art Lessons
Transferring photos onto organza create ethereal images that are perfect for layered collage fabric art. (Art by Jeannie Palmer Moore, photo by Sharon White Photography)

4. Old clothing and fabric scraps are perfect elements for storytelling in art. Karla Leopold used fabric, old clothing, and lace scraps to create a mixed-media fabric art piece she titled “Princess” in the July/August 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. Begin by placing a fabric piece on top of wax or parchment paper; this serves as a base for the piece. Separate fabric and clothing pieces into 3 piles of light, medium, and dark colors. Lay out a rough composition on the base fabric, varying the shapes, angles, and tones of the fabrics, and cutting the pieces if necessary. Remove each piece of fabric from the base, generously coat it and the base with adhesive, and replace the fabric piece. When dry, paint the piece with fabric paints, experimenting to see how different colors and finishes appear on the fabrics. Look for an image in the piece, and add details with paint and markers to help it emerge.

Fabric art portrait by Karla Leopold from Cloth Paper Scissors magazine
Textile scraps, old clothes, and lace pieces are transformed into a mixed-media portrait. (Art by Karla Leopold, photo by Sharon White Photography)

5. When textiles are sculpted, they transform into dimensional fiber art. In the book Encaustic Revelation by Patricia Baldwin Seggebruch, Shary Bartlett shares a technique that uses encaustic wax to turn fabric into beautiful roses. Cut several strips of polyester fabric, and wind each piece around your fingers to form a rosette. Staple or sew the base to hold it in place. Dip the rosettes in molten natural or filtered wax medium, allowing the wax to drip off the flower. Set the flower in an egg carton to cool. Pull apart some of the cooled petals, using tweezers or a sharp tool.

Sculpted fabric art from Encaustic Revelation
Fabric dipped in wax takes on sculptural forms. (Art by Shary Bartlett, photo by Christine Polomsky)

6. Lesley Riley created fabric art to wear in the May/June 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. In her article “Inspired by Quotes,” a cotton knit scarf blank was used as a base for a favorite quote. To embellish it, first iron the scarf to freezer paper. Write the quote across the scarf with white glue, making sure the glue saturates the fabric and is visible on the back. The glue seals the fabric, creating a resist for dyeing or painting. Allow the glue to dry, peel the fabric from the freezer paper, and apply paint or dye to the fabric as desired. Rinse the scarf and wash it in hot water to remove the glue. If paint was used, heat set it. Embellish the scarf as desired.

Quote scarf from Cloth Paper Scissors magazine
Wear your fabric art by turning a scarf into a canvas for a favorite quote. (Art by Lesley Riley, photo by Sharon White Photography)

7. Next time you create a landscape, felt one using fabric, fibers, and embellishments. In the March/April 2014 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Colleen Ansbaugh used wool scraps and roving to create miniature landscapes with lots of texture, dimension, and color. Using a sketch of a simple landscape as a template, and cut a piece of craft felt to size for the background. Cut the wool scraps into shapes to form the landscape, and place all the pieces on top of a foam felting block. Place a small amount of wool roving over the scraps, and felt it in place, using felting needles. Try felting bits of ribbon, silk, cloth, or yarn to add more definition. Stitch details with crewel or embroidery thread, and beads or other embellishments for more interest. Stitch around the edges to create a border.

Felted landscapes from Cloth Paper Scissors magazine
Creating landscapes with fabric and felt lends texture and dimension. (Art by Colleen Ansbaugh, photo by Hornick/Rivlin Studio)

Turn your textile scraps and old clothing into fabric art today! Check out these resources from the North Light Shop and get inspired.

Art Lessons Volume 7: Altering Organza for Collage by Jeannie Palmer Moore
Discover ways to alter organza and use it in fabric art in Art Lessons Volume 7: Altering Organza for Collage by Jeannie Palmer Moore.
Fabric Collage video with Ruth Rae
Layer, cut, and sew textiles to create stunning fabric art in the video Fabric Collage: Exploring layers and textures, with Ruth Rae.
Stitch Alchemy eBook by Kelli Perkins
Combine fabric and cloth to create stunning artwork in the eBook Stitch Alchemy by Kelli Perkins.
Art Cloth eBook by Jane Dunnewold
Art Cloth, an eBook by Jane Dunnewold, is a fantastic guide to creating fabric art with texture, color, and pattern.

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Blog, Fabric Art, Mixed-Media Techniques

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